Incorporating Social Justice into the Law School Curriculum with a Hybrid Doctrinal/Writing Course
John Marshall Law Review
Educating future lawyers is about more than just teaching them substantive law. We are preparing professionals who will go out into our world and shape and affect it in deep and impacting ways. They will make law, enforce law, determine policy, defend people, advocate, and influence lives and businesses. Therefore, any thorough law school education should teach social justice and encourage students to become more engaged in activism.
One way to incorporate social justice into the law school curriculum is to offer specific courses focused on social justice. However, administrators may be concerned about demand for such classes or ability to fit them into tight schedules that already are packed with required courses. They may also be concerned that this type of course would not fulfill the objectives of teaching “best practices,” which include providing more skills courses to make students “practice ready.” We have addressed these concerns and been able to offer such a course. The course is required for those students accepted to the journal we supervise, the Journal of Civil Rights and Economic Development. The course gets a set number of students each year, and we use the course for students to fulfill a scholarly writing requirement.
The course, Perspectives on Justice, is a hybrid doctrinal and writing course. Through the power of narrative and scholarly writing, we teach students about various social justice issues, such as race, gender, sexual orientation and identity, poverty, immigration, voting, and more. We explore historical injustices and the way they were addressed through law, policy, and social movement. We tie this history into current issues to carry forward those movements and help students realize that injustices are not a “thing of the past” already addressed by the Civil Rights Movement and resulting laws. We explore historical injustices and current ones, and we ask students to explore any injustices they may have faced in their own lives. We challenge the notion that the law is “neutral” as written and applied.
We then have the students pick a social justice topic of their own interest and write a scholarly note on it, a blog or op-ed, and a reflection piece on another scholarly social justice piece they have read. Scholarship on social justice is essential to activism because it brings deeper knowledge and understanding to the issues. Through the use of narrative and scholarship, the students are affected by the social injustices we discuss and empathize with those impacted and are motivated to effectuate change in their communities. Narrative is a powerful way to impact people; it can change attitudes, plant seeds, and spur behaviors that will address these justice issues. This paper briefly discusses the importance of teaching social justice to law students and then explores more the ways to teach it, particularly the use of narrative and writing. It draws upon the ideas and scholarship of others to support our use of narrative and writing as a tool to educate and motivate and discusses some examples of how we use these techniques in our course.
Legal Education Commons, Legal Ethics and Professional Responsibility Commons, Legal Writing and Research Commons